Leonard Bernstein's Mass
Leonard Bernstein’s gargantuan Mass receives a rare performance in the Adelaide Festival.
When it premiered in 1973, Mass caused something of a sensation. Never one to do things conventionally, Bernstein took the skeleton of the Latin Mass and added to it a full orchestra, a large mixed choir, a boys’ choir, street singers, dancers, a rock band and a marching band. Needless to say, it’s rarely performed, and Adelaide sees only the work’s second Australian performance. Local director Andy Packer jumped at the chance to direct it.
“Bernstein describes it as a theatre piece,” he begins, “but the scale is off the chart. Apart from the huge forces, there are seventeen principals. But what makes it special here is the amount of staging we’re doing. It’s an incredible concept and while it’s a director’s dream, it’s also a bit of a nightmare!”
Mass is about a crisis of faith, deliberately metaphorical, and the staging is inspired by Bernstein’s own writing on the piece. “He clearly saw Mass as political rather than theological, and the scene we’ve developed situates it in a cathedral that’s under repair,” Andy says, “We’ve used scaffolding both for its authenticity and also to give enough space for all the performers. Mass is about rejection, and despair, and protest. It typifies the struggle of people of faith in a hard world. It was written in the aftermath of the US involvement in Korea and Vietnam, but it’s just as relevant today. It holds together as drama, and applies just as much to Afghanistan or Iraq, or the Occupy Movement. There are some amazing visual effects, whether they’re memories of war, or the glory of a stained glass window. It’s all there!”
“The most important character is the Celebrant,” Andy continues, “and we’ve got probably the greatest living exponent of the role coming to Adelaide, an incredible singer named Jubilant Sykes (pictured), who’s done everything from the Metropolitan Opera to jazz, and recorded the role in a Grammy-winning recording a few years ago. He understands the Celebrant’s journey, and I think he’s the one to take us along for the ride.”
Photo: Phil Fewsmith
Two performances of Mass, on March 9 and 10. Book at Bass.